THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

Thicker Than Water
Big Finish Productions
Arrangements for War

Written by Paul Sutton Cover image
Format Compact Disc
Released 2004
Continuity Between The Trial of a Time Lord
and Time and the Rani

Starring Colin Baker and Maggie Stables

Synopsis: Love is everywhere. But then war is too. Is it time for Evelyn to leave the Doctor? Or is the choice about to be taken out of her hands? And who is to say what is the beginning and what is the end of love?


Reviews

A Review by Richard Radcliffe 9/6/04

The 6th Doctor and Evelyn return after much too long a gap. The last story - Project Lazarus - was nearly a year ago. Bearing in mind that it is universally acknowledged that the 6th Doctor and Evelyn are one of the main reasons for Big Finish being so brilliant - then that's just too long. Thankfully we have another in a few months, that's more like it! I think it should be written into Maggie Stables' contract - at least 3 stories a year!

The long gap is emphasized by the fact that the events that start this one off, follow on directly after Project Lazarus. I must go back and listen to that again, because there is a lot I have forgotten. What I do remember though, is that Evelyn was mightily cheesed off with our hero - and I suppose, that's all you really need to know starting this.

You could call Arrangements For War a more gentle story, many are calling it a romance even. But that would imply some Mills and Boon affair - which it certainly is not. That said though, it does have more loving moments than your usual DW story - but then so did some classic TV stories - Green Death (released on DVD around the same time) for example. So it appears the lusty month of May, as the musical Camelot proudly sings, is totally true for Doctor Who 2004.

My wife loved this story. She enthused about it all the way through, and sat attentive throughout. She went as far to say that it was the best for some considerable time, with the greatest cliffhangers she had ever heard. So is Big Finish catering here for the female market? I wouldn't be so sexist to presume anything like that, to be honest. Let's just say it's got more romance in than usual, so for all you romantic blokes out there, this one's for you.

Paul Sutton is a name I had never heard of before. He seems the ideal choice to write this though. The CD notes have a picture of him and his Hungarian wife, in a very dramatic pose together. Cupid's arrow has been shot all over this release. The Princess in this story is called after his wife too - so Corporal Reid's exclamations of longing are undoubtedly the author's for his wife - that's nice. The Doctor comes along to help this potentially politically harmful union. That's quite dubious morality from our hero - but it ties in famously with Evelyn's current opinion of him - and provokes a stunning conclusion.

Evelyn too falls under the mystical love spell that surrounds this story. Her blooming relationship with Governer Rossitor (played by Gabriel Woolf - who played Sutekh) is a strange one. Love vows are shared, then Rossitor disappears for an episode or so! You half expect Rossitor to be the villain of the piece because of his previous role - but then which side is the good, and which the bad? Evelyn and the Doctor fall in with opposite sides, in different ways - that's part of the dilemma that drives the story.

The title is quite clever, having multiple meanings, which I won't spoil by giving my twopenneth here. Safe to say a title that I thought originally rather dull, takes on greater meaning thanks to the events here. One of these events is the coming of the alien invaders. Evelyn seems rather more worried about this than the Doctor - certainly the later episodes have that aura of doom, which really drives the story towards its excellent conclusion.

The production is full of brilliant performances, and some real standout voices - vital for great audio stories. Suskind and Rossitor top the list in this department, with clear distinctive speeches. With Colin Baker there too, you have arguably the richest vocal talent any Big Finish play has ever heard.

One voice heard quite a few times is that of Gary Russell - the Director. I have the greatest respect for this fellow, as one of the main driving forces behind this brilliant series of Doctor Who stories. He is one of the prime reasons why these plays are so good - a brilliant director and script editor. I also think he is a great interviewer (as witnessed in the Dalek Invasion of Earth DVD). He provides extra voices quite regularly in these releases too - it's probably easier that way than just employing an actor for a few lines. Trouble was in Episode 3 I lost count of how many times I thought - that's Gary Russell, that is - and I'm sure they were for quite a few parts. Try and vary the modulation at least, please.

Arrangements For War is a fascinating piece of audio. A thoughtful script, and rather tense at times. Love and war mixed in a heady concoction, with two of the greatest characters ever devised right in the centre of things (the 6th Doctor and Evelyn Smythe). The sound engineers create a really brilliant environment - with some delightful music counterbalancing the story. I found it all rather wonderful - seems I can be in touch with my feminine side too. 8/10


Love is in the air... by Joe Ford 19/6/04

This is a stirring mixture of war and romance and further proof that Big Finish is pulling itself out of the doldrums of last year. It is a powerfully acted piece and beautifully put together, Gary Russell giving his best directorial effort since The Wormery last year. I listened to the whole thing through, it's another long story (125 minutes long) but it never felt stretched or padded. What's more it continues the story of the sixth Doctor and Evelyn Smythe, easily one of the all time best pairing of Doctor and companion, following on from the dramatic events of Project: Lazarus and the possible destruction of their striking friendship.

I will make no secret of the fact that I was bawling my eyes out come episode four, in particular the Doctor's tragic reaction to another death in his life. This is the climax to several horrific adventures for the Doctor and Evelyn, three stories in a row now when they have lost somebody very dear to them. It is heartbreaking to see this pair, outwardly so fun being punished so severely by events out of their control. Evelyn's hysterical reaction to Cassie's death in Project: Lazarus was about as dramatic as Doctor Who has ever been, listening to the woman crying her eyes out uncontrollably was painful in the extreme, a new sort of uncomfortable that the series has never really explored before.

It makes perfect sense that Evelyn should need some time to herself to gather her thoughts. After the Doctor's insistence that they charge on into another adventure it appears that he has callously already forgotten about those they have lost. For Evelyn, who loves children dearly it is too much to bear to see her friend behaving so alien. The opening scenes of this story are imbued with a nasty feeling between the two travellers, I was quite put off by how terribly she was treating the Doctor who is clearly trying his best to deal with his own emotions.

As if all her prayers were answered Evelyn meets up with Rossiter, Governor of Vilag, who offers her stability and beauty and romance. Naturally after such a terrible time of late she dives head first into his affections and they greatly enjoy their time together, splashing in the sea, taking in the sights. He even manages to get her involved with the politics of the planet, an important position that she finds stimulating in the extreme. Could it be true? Could she really be leaving the Doctor?

I cannot stand romance stories, especially romantic comedies, you know the sort I mean with obvious plots where you know the two character will end up happily ever after no matter how daft the scenarios become. Mills and Boon books are vomit literature in my book, tedious one-dimensional characters written by authors who have a serious need to express their sexual frustration in novel form (ooh... harsh!). So it delights me to inform you that this love story is gorgeously written so it never dwells on cliches and constantly manages to surprise throughout. The lingering question of whether Evelyn will stay with Rossiter powers their story and leaves you desperate to see the outcome.

The scenes between Maggie Stables and Gabriel Woolf are quite beautiful thanks to their sensitive performances. It helps that we know Evelyn so well and it is nice to see her laughing and enjoying herself again but the underlying feeling that she enjoys this man's company more than the Doctor's grips throughout. One scene in episode four where she reveals why she is so bitter towards the Doctor to Rossiter and starts to reminisce about her mother is another Maggie Stables emotional classic, she has the ability to really make you care for Evelyn and get up close and personal. Their chemistry is a delight, perhaps it is because this is an older romance than I am used but there was something sweet and engaging about their friendship.

In the background to the story lingers the War, the marriage between Princess of Galen and the Prince of Melidian that will unite them and put an end to their conflict. Of course as it always is, things are not that simple and the Princess has her eye on another man, one of her own military men and has to choose between true love or a false love that will bind her people...

In steps the Doctor to play the unconventional role of go-between, he knows full well that the marriage has to take place to unite the two countries so that their union strengthens the military and averts an upcoming Killoran invasion. So to assist he finds himself hushing up the Princess's affair with her guard, passing notes between them and forced to endure their flirting as he is wedged between them in public displays. At first I was horrified to see the Doctor, especially the sixth Doctor, reduced to this but you soon realise how important it is that their affair remain secret. The safety of the entire planet is at risk...

And of course it gives Colin Baker another chance to explore the softer side of his character. It astonishes me to hear some people moaning about Big Finish and their attempts to shake up the sixth Doctor's image and make a more likable, less irritable character. These were probably the same people who whined on that he was too violent and shouty on the telly. He is the continual winner of polls as THE audio Doctor and powerhouse performances like the one he delivers here is all the evidence you need to see why. Here he is written as a rather cheeky, playful guy, bristling with strong emotions and trying hard to cope with one death on his conscience after another. There is such texture to his performance, one second he can be putting on a fake gangster voice to fool a guard into escaping and the next he convincingly puts his heart on his sleeve and gets close to the Princess Krizstina. Indeed their scenes together, like Evelyn and Rossiter, bristle with genuine feeling, after losing so many children in recent stories it might be foolish of him to warm to another but their friendship is unmistakably touching. The fireworks at the end of the story come not with the end of the War but with the Doctor's dramatic decision to alter established history. Given his aversion to such crimes in the past, it reveals just how hurt he is by recent developments. It is crushingly real and Baker's compelling performance brings it all home.

I loved how brisk the story seemed despite long dialogue scenes as friendships burgeon. Episode three begins in complete contrast to episode two which was a half hour of dizzy romance... suddenly things turn very bad and the plot is pushed on efficiently by means of a montage of newscasts, a marvellous way of getting on with the story without having to explain every little thing. Like a good piece of music the story saves the most dramatic events until the end, the story a crescendo of doom that climaxes in spectacular fireworks. Even away from the intimacy of the Doctor and Evelyn I was never bored, for once a planet and its affairs really seemed to matter to me and I was invested in finding out what happened.

Whilst much of the good work must go to the talented performers I feel I should put my hands together for Gary Russell who has also risen out of the ashes of last year and started to deliver stories of a quality that typified the early Big Finish productions. Much of this story was perfectly pitched; the drama was played just right, the sound FX were utterly convincing (I loved all the rushing water FX, very soothing) and what's more important the Doctor/Evelyn romance was given appropriate gravity. Gary is a big fan of this pairing and it shows and they remain his (and Big Finish's) greatest achievement.

I don't know who Steven Foxon is but I beg Big Finish to use him again. The music and sound design was extraordinary, a fresh new talent is just what the series needed and this guy knows his stuff. Romance scenes are punctuated with a calming score and the action scenes blood pumpingly perfect. There was one scene without dialogue with the Killorans invading that explained everything you needed to know, gunshots and screams echoing from the speakers.

Potent stuff and another sixth Doctor classic, the outstanding final scene is the cherry on the cake.


A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 12/10/04

Played out (to begin with) in a similair fashion to the opening moments of The Armageddon Factor, Arrangements For War attempts to deal with the aftermath of the revelations concerning Evelyn at the end of Project: Lazarus. As such, what we have is a somewhat gentile drama, with no major shock cliffhangers that plays along at a steady pace, set over the course of several days. In short Arrangements For War is mostly a character based drama and a suitably effective one at that.

It is in the performances that the play really shines, Colin Baker is at his softest here as the Sixth Doctor, acting for the most part as a go-between for the Princess Of Galen and Prince Of Melidian upon whose marriage (and a large part of the tale`s main narrative) certifys the outcome of the war against which the story is played. Guest star Gabriel Woolf is the main love interest for Mggie Stables` Evelyn and we are treated to sensitive, carefully underplayed performances from both, coupled with strong sound design from Steve Foxon and the result is a strangely affecting play. The subject of love isn`t exactly a new one for Big Finish, but its certainly the most endearing one in Arrangements For War. A welcome diversion.


A Review by John Seavey 20/4/06

Well, I didn't think it was possible, but it's finally happened. Big Finish has finally produced an audio that could contend with Minuet In Hell for their coveted title of "Worst Doctor Who Audio Ever". This is a work of staggering stupidity, breathtaking inanity, and such complete idiocy that the author has to simply stop at points and fill in the plot gaps with narrative, as I'm sure the actors took one look at the script and said, "I'm not reading that crap." (And when you believe that a man who performed in Timelash said, "I'm not reading that crap," you're talking about some seriously dim-witted stuff.)

The plot revolves around the two kingdoms of Sillyname and Stupidname, which are about to end centuries of tension with an arranged marriage between Prince Hi-I'm-Not-Actually-In-This and Princess Kristina, who's all worried that she won't be able to be with her love, Marcus, once she's in a loveless marriage. (Those of you bringing up all of European history to counter this assertion are already way ahead of the plot.) The marriage is opposed by transparently evil villain Suskind, played by Philip Bretherton with all the subtlety of Snidely Whiplash, who's the leader of Prince Doesn't-Have-Any-Dialogue's country. Suskind is planting bombs, sneaking in assassins, arranging demonstrations, and generally trying to sow chaos and discord... in Princess Kristina's capital. Amazingly, nobody seems to ever think of restricting the foreign leader's movements or communications in any way.

The Doctor and Evelyn get involved, each in their own way because they're not talking to each other because Evelyn's turned unspeakably whiny, and manage to turn the situation into an outright war. The Doctor tries to help Kristina and Marcus by passing along letters, but Suskind's thug, Pokol (played by Lewis Rae, who appears to be trying to outdo Bretherton in the Snidely Whiplash-a-thon), steals the letters from Kristina's bedroom, which he is allowed access to because of his status as bodyguard of the leader of another country, and uses them to dissolve the alliance and start a war.

The Doctor gets locked up, for no sane and sensible reason, and is visited in prison by Suskind, who appears to not only have not been deported from the country he's just declared war on, but is allowed freedom of movement within the capital, the right to wander in and talk to political prisoners, and to continue to have his private staff of bodyguards to wander around fully armed. This isn't just a plot hole, it's a plot singularity -- Suskind's actions drive the entire second half of the audio, and at every moment, you wonder if the writer wasn't just a bit confused about what nations at war traditionally do. It'd be like setting a play during World War II, and having Hitler live in London for the duration with his SS in tow. Anyhow, Suskind twirls his moustache a bit, Pokol gets threatening, the Doctor escapes, and, oh yes, Evelyn is off somewhere falling in love with the leader of a third nation in a subplot that never actually threatens to become important.

Then aliens invade, Suskind has an instant change of heart and becomes a good guy, the two nations ally and defeat the aliens, various people die, and the Doctor gets all mopey, which gives Evelyn the opportunity to have a painfully poorly-written chat with him about grief, which ends the audio on the classic line of dialogue, "Your boots need cleaning." A work of thorough incompetence on every possible level.


A Review by Ron Mallett 26/5/07

Another excellent 6th Doctor/Evelyn Big Finish release, perhaps one of the best. Arrangements for War by Paul Sutton, is another attempt to push the boundaries of what Doctor Who can encompass and as this project demonstrates, the possibilities are boundless.

Primarily a story about relationships, it never appears too indulgent, too wistful and obvious, as the new television series has proven to be. There's a deeper meaning, a deeper truth about the human condition to be explored by placing these characters in a situation of this nature. A planet, burdened by war, is about to be invaded by a ruthless race which considers it, in its present state, to be easy pickings. That is the backdrop to a number of stories of emotional growth and development including a hopeless romance between a royal princess and a young soldier, the healing of a great friendship and the revelation of the Doctor's necessary repression of the emotional weight, which is the price of adventuring lifestyle. What helps to make this all possible of course, is good writing and excellent performances.

Unlike some other Big Finish adventures, this story has the advantage of being both well written and well executed. It is, in short, a bloody good little story. The story could have so easily become a space "soap opera"; instead, it respects the accepted Who format and seems to thrive on the discipline imposed on it. There are some BF stories which obviously only have audio potential, but this is one of those with great visual promise. It was quite easy to visualise the entire adventure as either a live drama or an animated one. The non-linear use of time in relation to the relating of the rescue in the lift was a potentially confusing flashback sequence that truly works.

The audio production sports a strong cast including Gabriel Woolf (Sutekh in Pyramids of Mars) and Philip Bretherton (Alistar from As Time Goes By). The chemistry between the two regulars, Colin Baker and Maggie Stables, continues to develop. Woolf's hypnotically deep and coarse voice helps to convey a sense of the "old war dog". Katarina Olsson and Lewis Rae also give notable performances as the tragic lovers. The incidental music provided by Steve Foxon also provides the production with the typical BF professional air, giving the listener that every second has been intensely laboured over. The motif of the music box is particularly effective.

It's easy to understand why this story has become so popular and has lead to sequel, Thicker Than Water. This one is definitely up there with The One Doctor as a real classic.